DVD Release Date:  October 26, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  June 11, 2010 (limited)
Rating:  R (for some drug material, language and violent content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  100 min.
Director:  Debra Granik
Actors:  Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Garret Dillahunt, Shelley Waggener, Lauren Sweetser, Dale Dickey, Sheryl Lee

Some movies provide escapist entertainment. Others, like documentaries, give us a look at real-life cultures and people we never would meet otherwise. Then there are fictional films that feel like nonfiction, giving viewers a glimpse into lifestyles and behaviors that aren't part of their everyday experience. The best of these films use the art of storytelling to reveal deep truths about human nature.

Winter's Bone, from director Debra Granik (Down to the Bone), is such a film, depicting the lives of the rural poor facing dire circumstances. It is not a pretty picture, but it is an artful film with several strong performances. The film's harrowing ending delivers a punch to the gut that, unlike the effect of mainstream summer movies, lingers long after the closing credits.

Winter's Bone establishes its theme early—how people who live on a razor's edge between subsistence and utter ruin manage to survive day to day—and keeps us watching the entire time. By the end of this darkly beautiful film, we're thoroughly invested in the characters, their circumstances and their future.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, in a star-making performance) is trying to hold her family together. Her father, arrested on drug charges, has just jumped bail, and the bondsman has shown up to inform Ree that her dad put the family home up as bond. Now that he's fled, the house will be taken from Ree and her two younger siblings in a matter of days, unless she finds her father somewhere in the Ozark mountains.

Determined to keep her home and to stay with her brother and sister, Ree vows to locate her father, but first she has to provide food for her family. Her mother lives with them, too, but she's not all there mentally. So it's up to Ree to be mother as well as sister to her young charges. She gives her horse to a neighbor (Shelley Waggener), borrows money for food, and gives her brother and sister lessons in how to survive. (Hint: Squirrels make for good meat, after they've been skinned. Yes, this is shown in the film. Consider yourself warned.) When the kids see others with food and encourage Ree to ask if they can have some, she instructs them, "Never ask for what ought to be offered."

Her family is no help. Her uncle, nicknamed Teardrop, gives cagey answers to Ree's direct questions about her father's location. He's not the only one. A woman named Merab (Dale Dickey) is curtly dismissive of Ree's overtures, until she learns that Ree won't go away quietly. Then she turns nasty. Merab's trajectory is in some ways the mirror image of that of Teardrop, who slowly warms to Ree's predicament and helps her confront the unsavory characters from whom she needs to extract information.

Drugs are everywhere in Winter's Bone. How these poor people make, purchase and deal illegal substances is not well explained, but the characters' quiet acceptance of the culture that feeds such habits makes for a convincing reality.


Ree's quest in the movie is a search for truth. She wants to know her father's whereabouts, and she'll stop at nothing to get the answers she demands. Hers is a different culture than most of us have known, but her experience is illustrative of shared pursuits to which Christian audiences will be able to relate. These themes give value above and beyond the technical craft that Winter's Bone exhibits both in front of and behind the camera.

For instance, Ree's determination is an example of persistence amid bleak circumstances that we can admire as an example of family care (1 Timothy 5:8), or view as a metaphor for a life of prayer (Luke 18:1-8). Or, we can simply look at the surface of this beautifully filmed tale of quiet desperation, and thank God for the comforts that we take for granted, recognizing how close our lives are to the difficult day-to-day existence of Ree and her family.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@verizon.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; some foul language, including the "f" word.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Some smoking and drinking; a "doobie" is given to Ree; Ree says her father "cooks crank"; cocaine is snorted and offered; a woman says she's given up drinking; reference to growing marijuana.

  • Sex/Nudity:  A woman says she was involved with Ree's father, and that their relationship had rekindled after some time off.

  • Violence/Crime:  Ree's uncle grabs her face and squeezes it in a threatening manner; Ree teaches her younger siblings survival skills, including how to shoot squirrels, which are then skinned and prepared as food; Ree is assaulted; Teardrop strikes a car windshield with an ax; hands of a corpse are severed; Teardrop reaches for a gun after being pulled over by a police officer.

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  • Religion:  Religion is on the periphery of the film as part of the culture. A radio announces a Baptist church event; the lyrics to the soundtrack songs allude to faith.